Return Engagement (1990) Review

"Return Engagement" Chinese DVD Cover

"Return Engagement" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Joe Cheung Tung Cho
Writer: Joe Cheung Tung Cho, Wong Kar Wai
Producer: Alan Tang Kong Wing
Cast: Alan Tang, Andy Lau, Simon Yam, May Lo, Elizabeth Lee, David Ng, Carrie Ng, Melvin Wong, Stephen Tung, Ku Feng, Chan Chi Fai, Dennis Chan, Stephen Chan, Chang Yi, Chen Jing, Chu Tau, Dang Taai Woh, Kong Long
Running Time: 109 min.

By HKFanatic

Until his tragic passing in 2011, actor Alan Tang was a bonafied Hong Kong legend. Tang carried himself with all the swagger of a classic Hollywood movie idol; he’s one of the few actors around who could manage to steal the spotlight from Chow Yun Fat, as he did when they starred together in 1987’s “Flaming Brothers.” It was during this period that Tang began to rebrand himself as an action star, a role that suited him well. Behind the scenes, he formed his own production company and famously invested millions of his own dollars into Wong Kar-Wai’s benchmark film “Days of Being Wild.”

And before Wong Kar-Wai took flight as his own director, he regularly provided scripting services for Tang. Besides the aforementioned “Flaming Brothers,” Wong Kar-Wai helped to pen “Return Engagement,” a little-seen and oft-overlooked 1990 film that likely falls under the genre of ‘heroic bloodshed.’ On a surface level, the plot doesn’t bear much resemblance to Wong Kar-Wai’s other work but, upon closer inspection, this is a Triad picture that favors interpersonal relationships and family drama over nonstop bloodshed. Then again, if all you’re here to see is bullet casings hitting the ground, “Return Engagement” doesn’t disappoint in that regard either.

As our film opens, Alan Tang’s Triad boss is fighting the Italian mafia for control of Vancouver’s Chinatown. You read that right: this is one of the few Hong Kong action flicks that isn’t set in Hong Kong – at least for the opening 15 minutes. It’s quite a sight to witness Triad gangsters diving through the air and drawing their pistols in the middle of a quaint Canadian suburb. Shortly thereafter, Tang becomes separated from his family and placed in prison for over a decade while his newborn daughter is sequestered away to Hong Kong.

The movie jumps ahead to when Alan Tang, now looking older thanks to some grey dye in his hair, is released from prison. He soon boards a plane to Hong Kong to try and track down his missing daughter. Once there, he meets May Lo (“The Last Blood“), a streetwise teenager who might just know where Tang’s daughter is. In fact, she might even be his daughter. Tang’s patience is tested as Lo strings him along and drains his wallet, but both his character and the audience are left in suspense as to whether or not Lo is his missing daughter.

Along the way they must contend with an amoral Triad boss, portrayed by a young Simon Yam at his most maniacal. When things get bad enough, Alan Tang makes the phone call to summon a baby-faced Andy Lau from Vancouver. Andy Lau fans may be disappointed their hero is allotted a mere 10 minutes of screentime, but Lau makes the most of his brief appearance by serving a crucial (and acrobatic) role in the film’s climactic shootout.

The real heart of the film is Alan Tang’s budding paternal relationship with May Lo. Tang realizes that a mistreated orphan like May could use his guidance, whether he’s her real father or not. For her part, Lo slowly comes to understand that this ‘stiff old man’ has her best interests in mind. While the story has plenty of resonant themes, most of them are kept in the background. This is a fairly emotionally complex movie – but only upon reflection. Most of “Return Engagement’s” runtime is eaten up by May Lo looking and acting like a character from a John Hughes movie – hair gel’d to hell and back, new wave-style makeup – not to mention the numerous shootouts and beat downs that occur.

The finale in particular is worth mentioning. Director Joe Cheung doesn’t rely much on the slow motion or complex editing of someone like John Woo, but he makes “Return Engagement” stand out due the over-the-top and unique nature of the final action sequence. This guns-blazing shootout is staged on a wide public road in the middle of broad daylight, with our heroes desperately outnumbered and everyone packing Rambo-sized firepower.

While it may not be up there with “Dragon Family” or “Tragic Hero,” the massive gun battle that concludes “Return Engagement” certainly comes close. This is a ‘heroic bloodshed’ movie that deserves a wider look from fans, due to Wong Kar-Wai’s emotion-laden script as much as the film’s violent pyrotechnics.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10

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